Do Runners Have Amnesia?

imagesCA32IXH9Completing a marathon can feel exciting, but no doubt, it hurts. Still, most runners choose to sign up for more. A new psychological study offers some explanation of why, by finding that some marathon runners seem to develop selective amnesia and forget what the true experience is like.


The new study was published in the journal Memory. Przemyslaw Babel, a professor of psychology at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, focused on the marathon because the experience combines pain with emotions.

The Research:

At the finish line of the 2012 Cracovia Marathon in Krakow, Babel asked 62 of the finishers to rate the intensity and unpleasantness of the pain they were feeling right after they finished, as well as their general emotional state.

The runners reported a moderate intensity and unpleasantness of pain at the time, averaging about a 5.5 on a scale of zero to 10.

Then either three or six months later, the same runners were asked to remember how much pain they were in after they finished the marathon.

Their memories proved  quite different than how they responded three to six months previously. Most of the runners recalled the race as being much less painful than they said at the time, averaging a three on a 10-point scale.


The runners who had reported less happiness at the race’s end later remembered their pain more accurately than those who felt elated after crossing the finish line, even if their pain at the time had been about the same.


According to the study, “The results of the current study suggest that memory of pain and affect is influenced by the meaning and affective value of the pain experience. This may help us to understand why the previous research on the memory of pain were so diverse.”


Fast Food – the New Recovery Trick?

When a 2012 study reported that chocolate milk was an effective post-exercise recovery drink, athletes and exercisers everywhere rejoiced. Not only did the findings mean that you could save money by skipping some of the fairly expensive recovery products out there, but it also gave you an excuse to drink chocolate milk guilt-free.

A similar wave of excitement – albeit with a little more hesitation – is sweeping the health and fitness realm in response to a University of Montana research paper entitled “Post-exercise Glycogen Recovery and Exercise Performance is Not Significantly Different Between Fast Food and Sport Supplement.” While the title itself may not be particularly exciting, the findings of the study carry some interesting revelations for athletes when it comes to post-exercise nutrition.


What They Did and What They Found

For the study, 11 male subjects (all recreational athletes) completed two separate time trials on a stationary bike. First the men took on a 90-minute ride, designed to deplete their glycogen stores, followed by 4 hours of rest. During this rest period, muscle biopsies were taken to measure glycogen levels.

The subjects were also given a recovery meal, consisting of either traditional sports supplements or fast food. Each of the meals was designed to contain roughly the same amounts of total calories (about 1300) and macronutrients. At the end of the 4 hour rest break, the men were put back on their bikes for a 20K time trial.

After various numbers – including performance, glucose response, insulin response, cholesterol response – were crunched, there was no difference between the fast food and the sports supplements.


Implications and Cautions

After this story first broke several months ago, many publications latched onto it. But, according to one of the authors of the study, these articles misrepresented the findings. This study is not a free pass to load up on fast food.

The positive results in the study, related to eating fast food as a means of recovery, were achieved with small portions.

You also have to consider that food contains a lot more than just calories – especially fast food. There are plenty of preservatives, dyes, flavorings and texturizers added to processed food that may have any number of negative health effects. While these additives most likely will not have any acute impact on your athletic performance, they probably aren’t doing you any favors in the long-term. So, then, you have a choice to make: If you do not typically indulge in fast food, you may consider allowing yourself this one dietary lapse as a recovery meal. On the other hand, your repulsion from fast food might be too strong to even let that slide.

Either way, the facts remain: Fast food is – depending on your personal attitude toward the subject – an acceptable recovery meal. If your dietary conscience allows and you can practice moderation, grabbing a bite from the nearest fast food establishment can provide you with a cheaper, more accessible option than the more traditional sports recovery foods on the market.

Races to Run in 2015

With spring in full swing as we make our way out of winter hibernation, it feels like a new day with running. I no longer wake up to darkness and leave work with the moon shining. Thank goodness! I am not a fan of winter. Although I must endure spring allergies, I prefer this season with all the flowers blooming along my long runs. You might start thinking of filling up your racing calendar now with some fresh races for 2015. Here are a few ideas for you:

Vegas Shenanigans

In freezing cold with mittens wrapped around my fingers and a headband clung tightly to my ears, I headed out for a  13.1-mile run/walk that  raced down to the Stratosphere and turned to head into downtown Las Vegas along the old Fremont Street. I then ran back down the strip to the finish line at Mandalay Bay. Unfortunately, this race was a little too crowded for my taste–it took a good 5-10 minutes just to cross my timing chip over the finish line due to the crowds. But…if the thought of running down the strip with no cars allowed suits your running fancy and finish times don’t matter, the Las Vegas Strip at Night Half Marathon and Marathon should come near the end of your racing schedule.

Best Finish Line Treat

Hot Chocolate 15K. Partnering with a popular chocolate company, these races populate the United States and offer runners something better than a medal that sits in box–finishers receive liquid chocolate. With cardboard plates shaped for fondue, runners enjoy warm chocolate with treats such as pretzels, marshmallows and fruit to dip. If that’s not enough, hot chocolate is also offered to keep your insides warm after running. In the words of Rachel Ray, Yum-O!

Not for the Faint of Heart

Tough Mudder. I have to admit, I’ve not done a Tough Mudder. I’ve done a mud run and highly suggest completing one. Prepare your body for hours of torture! From an obstacle course called the Arctic Enema to electric wires, I don’t know if this race is for everyone. Even those names alone have me shaking in my running shoes, but crossing the finish line might make one feel pretty tough, so to speak. I’m interested to hear about anyone who has completed one…would you recommend?

Best Clothing and People Watching

Awesome 80s Run. With spandex, neon colors, bangles and leg warmers, how can you not love a race where you don fantastically ugly outfits? For those without acid wash jeans still in the back of the closet, this race may cost you a registration fee and a trip to Goodwill. But the bright colors of participants will have passersby scratching their heads.


Run in the Spring

267037_10151041768466017_1085636360_oMore than 2,000 miles of the U.S. remains under freeze watch and it may feel too bitter to even hit the gym, let alone go run outdoors. However, let’s look at the good news: the official start of Spring 2015 begins in less than one month. Although this may not make those temperatures rise today, soon Mother Nature will melt the ice and you’ll see the trails underneath the current blankets of pure whiteness. Here are a few spring options to add to your running calendar:

1. The Color Run–One of the spring traditions throughout the world is Holi, a celebration of love and color that involves the famous throwing of color dust. The Color Run honors that festival with 5K events all over the U.S and the world. Their website shows loads of upcoming events. Participants wear white shirts and then run through a sea of color dust to end the race looking like they were painted. It’s easy to find a similar event located near you with so many upcoming on their racing calendar.

2. Although typical city marathons/half marathons offer crowds, bands and cheerleaders along the route, I suggest trying out a trail race to the mix. You’ll experience nature, quiet solitude, and a much harder challenge than your standard running on asphalt. Plus, you can leave your watch at home. Usually you run at a slower pace with the constant change in elevation. But you’ll also have stronger quads to appreciate.

3. Test out relay races. Companies such as Ragnar offer relays of 6-12 people who run various legs of a course measuring 200-300 miles in distance. You start in the morning and run for one to two days over night, sleeping whenever possible. You do have long breaks in between legs, so you can spend the time making friends with your fellow runners and relax. It’s great for running and camaraderie.

Happy not-quite-yet spring!

Mud Runs: A First-Person Perspective

cropped-cross-country_1.jpgSpring is right around the corner–for some anyway, depending on where you are in the country. This means races draw near and you can start looking forward to filling up your weekends with hard-core marathons and those races offering a bit of silliness–such as mud runs.

Not too long ago, I decided to participate in my first event at the original mud run spot—Camp Pendleton near Oceanside, Calif. just north of San Diego. I arrived early in the morning at the military base and watched as thousands taped up their shoes to keep them from falling off. I was unaware that they would, so I too grabbed some tape and wrapped my shoes several

We then took off for a 10K course that had me falling into mud pits, scaling walls (of which I needed the assistance of the military men just to get up—not that I’m complaining), crawling through mud under electric wiring, getting drenched from a firefighter’s hose, running through dirt up and down hills, and jumping into mud pits as if I were five years old.

I ended the race covered in mud. I even had mud on my teeth. Luckily, the race finished with outdoor showers we could all walk through, but I can’t say it got rid of all the mud. I brought a change of clothes, but still had mud all over my body. My shoes were ruined, my socks shrank from all the water and my car was covered in mud after I arrived home, despite sitting on a towel.

If you’re going to be participating in a mud run sometime, I highly suggest going to a thrifty clothing store such as the Salvation Army or Goodwill and purchasing an old T-shirt and shorts and then throwing them in the trash after you’re done. Don’t ruin your good running clothes!

Be prepared to get diiirrrrttttyyy…Really dirty!

2015 New Year’s Resolution: Thank Aid Station Volunteers

One of my 2015 New Year’s resolutions is to thank at least one volunteer at every race I run. I  appreciate those volunteers who show up with smiling faces and brave the cold or hot conditions just to ensure the runners receive their fill of hydration. They get drenched as we toss our unused water and sports drinks to the side, yet they continue to keep their positive attitudes and encourage us to “keep it up.” Without them, races would be tougher and heavier as we’d need to carry our own nutrition. Here are a few aid stations that stick out in my mind for better and for worse:

Breast Cancer Walks. I try to participate in charity races as a way to see my registration dollars go to important non-profits and make me feel like I’m working out for the greater good and for something so much bigger than myself. Each October, I try to find a breast cancer walk/run and I am never disappointed in the aid stations. Men often man these aid stations and dress up in womanly attire to promote this female-oriented cause. With curlers in their wigs and underwear worn on the outside of their clothes, these men give the walkers/runners a laugh and a warming of the heart.

Themed Aid Stations. From costumed heroes to saloons complete with cowboys and entire painted backdrops, I love enjoying the creativity of fun-loving volunteers as I run past. Sometimes I find myself laughing so hard that I lose my energy. It’s worth it!

Great Wall of China Marathon. Because good, clean water is a precious commodity in China, every aid station served entire bottles of water. The volunteers didn’t open up the bottles and pour them into small cups; rather, they handed all runners the entire bottle at each and every station to avoid any contamination. Unfortunately, it was challenging to get water bottles up the Wall due to their weight. So at mile 21 and 22, no water existed. This left runners crawling around on the Wall searching for any tossed-to-the-side bottles that contained any ounce of water left in them. Quite a sight!

Photo courtesy Jeff Leonard Photography

12K’s of Christmas. In Gilbert, Ariz., just outside of Phoenix, the annual 12K’s of Christmas occurs each December. As a treat to runners, choral groups serenade each runner at every 1K marker. From children dressed as snowmen, to professional singers donned in old-fashioned suits and dresses, this race forced me to remove my earbuds and feel the holiday spirit resonate from one kilometer to the next.


Disneyland Races

B2lCRhvCEAEI-BO.jpg large

This weekend I participated in another runDisney race and always enjoy the ability to mingle with the Disney characters. This weekend’s festivities included a super heroes theme and I found plenty of men and women dressed in Avengers’ costumes and volunteers also decorated in a mix of colorful Thor and Captain America memorabilia.

Although the winds were a bit strong in this race (up to 65 mph headwinds and blowing over aid stations), I generally adore running through California Adventure Park and Disneyland Resort. Here are a few reasons to consider adding a runDisney race to your 2015 schedule…be sure to add it into your budget, however. They come with a nice hefty registration price (but I think it’s worth it, at least once in your life).

1. Early morning start. Yes, they have to start early to get you out of the park before it opens to the public…However, this means you can be back at your hotel, showered and ready to explore one of the resorts early as well. Plus, you have the race done and over before most people even open their eyes for the day.

2. Plenty of “set-up” camera opportunities. Throughout the park, Disney officials bring in loads of costumed characters complete with race photographers and another Disney employee standing there ready to take a photo with your own camera. If you don’t want to spend the money on photos, it’s easy to take your own. Although photographers dot the course and take much higher-quality photos perfect for keepsakes (and Disney races offer the best keepsake photos).

3. The memorabilia available, from princess tiaras to wear while you run to the best medals in the running biz, you’ll bring home plenty of racing loot.

Upcoming Disney races:

Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend September 3-6, 2015 │ Disneyland Resort

On Sale: Feb. 10, 2015

Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon WeekendNov. 6-7, 2015 │ Walt Disney World Resort

On Sale: March 17, 2015

Avengers Super Heroes Half Marathon WeekendNov. 12-15, 2015 │ Disneyland Resort

On Sale: April 7, 2015

Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend Jan. 6-10, 2016 │ Walt Disney World Resort

On Sale: April 28, 2015

Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend Jan. 14-17, 2016 │ Disneyland Resort

On Sale: June 16, 2015

Disney Princess Half Marathon WeekendFeb. 18-21, 2016 │ Walt Disney World Resort

On Sale: July 14, 2015

Tinker Bell Half Marathon WeekendMay 5-8, 2016 │ Disneyland Resort

On Sale: Aug. 11, 2015


Polar Circle Marathon

greenland 16Yesterday I finished a tough marathon near the North Pole in Greenland. Perfectly named the Polar Circle Marathon, it’s held within the Arctic Circle. To say the temperatures felt freezing would be an understatement. Here are the top reasons to consider a race at the top of the world:

1. Running on an ice cap. I don’t know of any marathon in the world in which part of the course traverses over a complete ice sheet. It’s like running on a skating rink surrounded by powdery snow and glaciers. The impressive views help offset the challenge of running on ice and you must wear spikes or coils on the bottom of your running shoes to help with the slipperiness. But it’s worth every slip and slide you make.

2. Running in the frozen tundras and next to glacier lakes. Spectacular scenery surrounds you and you even must wear sunglasses because of the sheer whiteness.

greenland 103. The hills. Runners meet some of the toughest hills  and hardest terrain even after you survived the ice cap at the beginning of the course. You’ll work your glutes and hamstrings and come back with a much more toned body (well, at least you can tell yourself.)

4. Running in temperatures with a negative sign in front of the number. Want to race in cold conditions? It’s too cold to even stand outside for a few minutes. Luckily, the running helps warm you up (a bit).

greenland 125. The gratitude and euphoria you feel at the end. Finishing an adventurous marathon and one that involves a significant increase in your finishing time gives you an even greater satisfaction.

Benefits of Real-World Visualizations for Runners

Using visualizations for runners – or any athlete – is really nothing new. No matter what your sport is, you’ve more than likely been told to “see the win” at some point in your career. This motivational tool is usually used during the training phases to help you prepare for competition and primarily happens inside your head. According to new research, though, physically staying focused on the finish line could make a large difference in how you perform.


Eyes On The Prize

Specifically, the research looked at what was termed “attentional narrowing” – the physical act of focusing your vision on a specific target. The team working on the paper, which appeared in the journal Motivation and Emotion, were spurred on by earlier research that found that overweight individuals perceived distances are being longer than people of average weight did. Based on this, the researchers theorized that focusing your eyes on the finish line would make it seem closer, increase your walking speed and even reduce feelings of exertion.

To test their theory, the researchers came up with two different experiments – both of which included in the one paper.

In the first experiment, 66 adult volunteers were taken to a park in the heat of summer and placed 12 feet away from an open cooler than contained cold drinks and ice. The subjects were then split into two groups: One that focused their attention strictly on the cooler, and another that was allowed to let their attention wander around the area. Both groups walked to the cooler and were then asked to estimate the distance. The group that stayed focused on the cooler thought it was closer than the other group did.

For the second trial, 73 participants were asked to walk 20 feet while wearing ankle weights that equaled 15 percent of their body weight. Again, the subjects were split into the same groups. This time, though, the experimenters timed the walk and then asked the participants to estimate how far they had walked, as well as report how difficult the activity was.

The focused group thought that the finish line was 28 percent closer and walked 23 percent faster than their unfocused counterparts, in addition to finding the whole thing less challenging.

Examined together, these two studies support the team’s original hypothesis the literally keeping your eyes on the prize can reduce your feelings of exertion and actually make you move faster.


Finding Application

So how can you actually use this information on your runs?

Of course, there’s the obvious application that you should simply keep looking at the finish line instead of glancing all over your environment. This can be a little tricky, though, especially on long runs when you might get bored or distracted.

In that case, the solution is frustratingly simple: Will power.

But during long runs, or on tracks that meander, you might not be able to physically see the finish line. What then? Set your own markers and progressively lead yourself to the finish line. This segmented approach isn’t new and is actually one of the reasons that many runners enjoy fartlek training so much. Instead of thinking about having to complete 5 miles, focus on getting to that stop sign, then to that mangled tree and so on. In idea is give yourself a series of checkpoints that gradually bring you to your ultimate finish line.

Have you been able to use attentional narrowing in your training? Please share your experience in the comments.





Running in Alaska

race-day-720x288Two weeks ago I finished another marathon in Alaska, the last frontier of this country. Known for its vast wilderness and as a hunting-lover’s dream, I can attest  it also serves as a runner’s dream. With countless trails right next to busy streets and no severe humidity and extreme summer temperatures, I wholeheartedly promote signing up for a race in Alaska.

What you’ll experience:

Before my race, I was given instructions on how to deal with wildlife and what to do if I see a bear. Although this sounds dangerous, I never felt fearful. Plenty of other runners provided safety in numbers. But I loved that extra wildlife element normally not found in other city races.

During my race, I saw a moose and a bald eagle dip into the water and grab a fish. These special moments are rarely found in a standard city race. I love running memories like this.

Mosquitoes and other bugs populated the race and I even noticed a girl with mosquitoes covering the back of her head. This is an easy problem to solve with bug spray, but Off doesn’t work. It’s best to buy bug spray when you arrive in Alaska.

Whether the sun shines or remains hidden behind gray skies, you won’t deal with hot summer temperatures and it’ll feel refreshing to run without the summer heat as an added element.

I don’t like large expos where you park a mile away, deal with lines and scoot through a labyrinth to get out. You burn precious calories and waste energy dealing with the chaos. Because of the size of the Alaska races, you can move in and out quickly without it taking up your afternoon and waste money on parking, adding to the expense of the race itself.

I hope to return next year for another Alaskan race. Hope to see you at the starting line.